John G. Hartness is the best-selling author of EPIC Award–winning series The Black Knight Chronicles from Bell Bridge Books, a comedic urban fantasy. He is also the creator of the comic horror Bubba the Monster Hunter series, and the creator and co-editor of the Big Bad series of horror anthologies from Dark Oak Press and Media. The past year has seen John launch a new dark fantasy series featuring Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter. On his Literate Liquors podcast, he pairs book reviews and alcoholic drinks in what he describes as “new and ludicrous ways.” John is also a contributor to the Magical Words group blog.
Daily Dragon (DD): What are the Black Knight Chronicles, and what inspired this series?
John G. Hartness (JGH): The Black Knight Chronicles is a lighthearted urban fantasy series where a pair of comic book geeks and best friends get turned into vampires and do what every nerd would do if he suddenly found himself with super powers—play Batman! They become private investigators, get embroiled in multiple adventures, and save the world sometimes in spite of themselves.
I was reading a lot of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Black books when the idea first hit me, plus watching True Blood and being a longtime fan of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. All of those things led me to one burning question – Why aren’t there more fat vampires? So I wrote one. I came up with a traditional Laurel & Hardy style comedy duo of a short, fat guy and a tall, skinny guy, and I’m up to six novels about them.
DD: How did you build the abilities of the vampires in the Black Knight Chronicles?
JGH: I borrowed liberally from all the influences I cited above, plus traditional vampire lore like Anne Rice’s books, Dracula of course, and other things. Some things made sense to me, like an antipathy toward silver, but some things I thought were silly, like the whole garlic thing. And the counting thing? My vampires are so not OCD, so they don’t count things. Maybe someday I’ll write an OCD vampire, but probably not in this series.
DD: This series is set in Charlotte, North Carolina, a city that hasn’t been widely used as a fantasy or science fiction setting. Why did you choose Charlotte?
JGH: I live in Charlotte, and have for almost twenty years. I can pretty much get the geography right, and it gives me the opportunity to drop in little Easter eggs that folks from around here get, but don’t distract from the story for readers.
DD: What are the benefits and drawbacks of using a place you know so well?
JGH: The benefits are that I know roughly how long it takes to get from any one point in the city to any other point in the area at any time of day or traffic condition, so I can keep the travel times realistic, and it makes it way easier to remember where I put things and people if I either use real places or very slightly shift real places. But just remember, kids – there is no network of man-sizer sewer tunnels with vampires living in them underneath the city of Charlotte. As far as you know.
One drawback is I get a little defensive when people tell me I got it wrong, and I know I didn’t. In the first few books, there is a particular cemetery that features very heavily in the books. I place it at the corner of Sharon Amity and Monroe Roads. I got a note in a review once that there was not really a cemetery there, so the author “must not know Charlotte very well.” Instead of chalking that up to one of those “well, there aren’t actually vampires in Charlotte either” moments, I committed a cardinal sin—I responded to a review. I wrote that since I pass that cemetery at least twice a week when I drive from my house to the comic shop where I buy comics and play Magic: the Gathering, I think I know where the cemetery is. And it really is there, and it’s huge. And yeah, I play Magic at least twice a week.
DD: Your other series are shorter forms of fiction, novellas for the Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter, series, and short stories for Bubba the Monster Hunter. Why did you go with the shorter forms for these series?
JGH: I find that my natural storytelling length is around 30,000 words, which is a solid novella length. At least right now. It seems to be stretching the more novellas I write, so eventually it feels like these will all turn into short novels in the 55–60,000 word range. But the driving factor is speed. I write for a living, and these are all put out by my micro-press, Falstaff Books, which is basically self-publishing, and since I don’t have the broad reach of a large traditional press, I need to continue to produce to pay the bills. At this point I am particularly unsuited to going back to a day job, so I better make a go of this writing thing.
DD: Quincy Harker is the son of two characters from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. What about the characters in the book led you to use them for Quincy’s backstory?
JGH: I wanted to write a badass wizard, like John Constantine from the Hellblazer comics of the 90s, and I needed a reason for him to be able to tap into supernatural abilities, and I wanted to play with the idea of him being exceptionally long-lived, so I poked around for logical reasons. Having vampires nibble on both your parents but not turn them seemed to me like it would mess with your DNA, so I went with that.
DD: How did you build Quincy Harker’s world?
JGH: It’s also set in the real Charlotte, NC. It’s a closed world urban fantasy, so most people don’t know about magic or the beasties that go bump in the night.
DD: You won the 2016 Manly Wade Wellman Award from the North Carolina Speculative Fiction Foundation for Raising Hell, a Quincy Harker novella. What is the story about, and how does it fit into the larger story arc?
JGH: Raising Hell is the first of the Quincy Harker novellas, and it introduces the character and puts him immediately into a horrific situation where a teenage girl has been impregnated by a demon, which has then possessed her from the inside out, devouring her soul from within. Harker has to deal with the demon in the only way he can, which is terrible, and then he works to find justice for the girl. It’s a very dark fantasy, which is something else I wanted to experiment with. Most of my work is very light, very funny, so I wanted to write a character that doesn’t have to take the gloves off, because he never put them on in the first place.
DD: Who is Bubba the Monster Hunter, and what inspired him?
JGH: Bubba is the Southeastern Regional Monster Hunter for the Holy Roman Catholic Church. He is physically a blend of the image of Larry Correia and a guy I used to work concerts with back in my stagehand days named Dr. Nick. Nick was, like Larry, a mountain of humanity, but Nick had a ZZ Top beard that he kept braided, and a long ponytail. I added full sleeves of tattoos, and thus Bubba the Monster Hunter was born.
It’s been so long, and so many stories, that I don’t really remember where the idea came from, but I probably heard someone talk about Larry’s Monster Hunter International books, and thought “He’s a big dude. And he knows how to shoot things. If I were a monster, he is exactly what I would not want after me.” And then I thought, “But what would make that even funnier?” And the obvious answer is “Rednecks!”
So I took all the stereotypes about my upbringing in rural South Carolina, many of which are true, and I poured them into a giant of a former college football player, because I love my University of Georgia Bulldogs, made him look like a character off Sons of Anarchy, and set him off on a series of adventures.
DD: You’re juggling three ongoing series, each of which is set in a variation of our world. How do you keep them straight?
JGH: I outline pretty heavily, and I only work on one of the series books at a time. When I’m writing a Black Knight book, I don’t work on Bubba or Harker. When I’m writing Harker, I don’t work on Bubba. It helps me keep the voice from bleeding over too much between works. I do frequently have another book or three working in the background while I’m writing my main stuff, but they are usually so different in tone that it’s easy to keep those worlds separated in my head.
DD: What do you find are differences between writing novels and writing shorter stories?
JGH: Length. J I go deeper into description in novels than in my shorter works, and I get to jump around a little with sub-plots and character development arcs. I can have a character go through a series of shifts in one novel that would take me three novellas to do, just because I have more backstage room to work in, so to speak. I can drop in little scenes and breadcrumbs in novels without hitting the reader over the head with a huge info-dump, because I have the space.
In the novellas, the action takes up so much of the narrative that relationship changes and developments get spread across multiple episodes.
DD: What is Falstaff Books?
JGH: Falstaff Books is the micro-press that I started in the beginning of 2016 with Jay Requard and Jaym Gates. We are a genre publisher looking for the best in science fiction and fantasy, with an eye toward unrepresented voices in fiction. We have released four titles so far this year that I didn’t write, with at least another half dozen coming down the pipe.
DD: Why Falstaff as the name?
JGH: It’s the name that I have self-published under since 2009, and it is the pseudonym that I used to blog under. Before writing fiction, I spent five years and nearly a million words as a poker blogger, and I wrote for my blog, PokerNews and PokerWorks under the name of “Falstaff.” At the time I had a day job, and since I was writing about my presence in illegal underground poker games, I thought it best not to use my real name when I admitted publicly to the commission of a crime. So when I moved into writing fiction, that’s the name I used for the press, to tie into some of the shifting branding that I had been working on. It didn’t work, I’m pretty sure I got very few crossover readers from my poker tournament articles. But the name of the press was something I was used to working under, so we just expanded the existing brand to publish works by other authors.
DD: Is the company open for submissions?
JGH: We are always open for submissions, and people can go to FalstaffBooks.com and follow the guidelines there. Please note: anything we look at now will not see the light of day until 2018 at the earliest. Our release schedule for 2017 is really full, so works accepted now will take at least 18 months to release, maybe more, depending on editorial. We will not rush a book to market. We are determined to release the best books we can, not just something half-assed to hit an arbitrary deadline.
DD: You’ve written other novels and short stories that aren’t part of series, including Headshot, which features a teenaged assassin. What inspired this story?
JGH: I wanted to write something that wasn’t supernatural in any way, and that character came to me and felt interesting. She was, but it hasn’t sold terribly well, so I haven’t written another one. A lot of these standalones are trial balloons—I come up with a character that seems fun, so I write a novella about them. If it sells well right off the bat, like Harker, I write more. If it doesn’t sell well, and I feel like I’ve got more to say, I write more. If it doesn’t sell well, and the character was only kinda interesting once I got into writing it, I don’t write any more.
Working at the speed that I do allows me to experiment with things that may or may not go anywhere. I have several other things in the hopper right now, including a military sci-fi thing, a cozy mystery mixed with necromancy thing, a thing about angels, a thing about dragons, and a literary fiction thing that I may never finish, but is therapeutic to write.
DD: What was your first novel?
JGH: The Chosen. It’s a contemporary fantasy novel featuring Adam and Eve in the modern world, and how the choices that we make affect others, in their case for millennia. It’s funny, in a Christopher Moore kinda snarky way, and is available in print, digital, and audio. It doesn’t move a ton of copies, but it’s a nice little book out there that sells about a book every other day after six years, so it’s done well for me.
DD: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
JGH: Don’t quit your day job. No, really, don’t. I did, and it was stupid. Five years later, I’m okay with it, but manage your money well, be prepared to pay a lot more in taxes than you think, and drink more water and less soda. And follow the damn submission guidelines!
DD: What’s next for you?
JGH: Falstaff Books is releasing a charity anthology that I created and edited called We Are Not This – Carolina Writers for Equality, where I got a bunch of awesome people to give me stories to produce an anthology protesting the HB2 law in North Carolina, which is a bad law on so many levels, not just its impact on our LGBTQ community. All profits from the sale of this anthology will go to three North Carolina LGBTQ charities. It includes work from AJ Hartley, Edmund Schubert, Jay Requard, Natania Barron, Tamsin Silver, Michael G. Williams, and a ton of other awesome writers.
And for me, I just started a podcast called Writing Rants, where I swear about writing and publishing on a bi-weekly basis. There are three books remaining in The Black Knight Chronicles, and I’ll keep writing and publishing Bubba and Harker books ’til the cows come home. The second installment of my serialized high fantasy novel, Queen of Kats, should be available by the time you read this. The next Bubba novella is actually a short novel, and it features a mashup of rednecks, Pokemon Go, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s called Midsummer and will be out in October, and the next Harker book will hit in October or November.
DD: Thanks for your time.
JGH: No, thank you!
For more information about John G. Hartness and his writing, visit his website, johnhartness.com